The Doha Climate Round | Kishan Khoday

18 Jul 2012

At the end of 2012 countries will gather in Doha for the 18th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). With countries having agreed last year to extend the Kyoto Protocol, the upcoming Doha gathering will see the start of work to design a successor emission reduction regime by 2015, meant to elaborate global emission reduction targets from 2020 onwards. COP18 in Doha is only the second time parties to the UNFCCC have gathered in the Arab region. The world has seen many changes since the Arab region’s first COP took place in Marrakesh, at the 7th COP in 2001. One fundamental change has been the rise of emerging economies to the center of the world economy, now a main engine of global GDP growth and a rising source of carbon emissions.

The decision to hold COP18 and start the process of designing the post-2015 climate framework in Doha was controversial given its position as the world’s highest levels of per capita carbon emissions. But this could also be an opportunity to more constructively engage climate change issues with the Arab Gulf. While much attention has been placed on engaging a new constructive role for large emerging economies like the BRICs in the post-2015 regime, the Gulf will also be important to any long-term strategy. The region has grown in global economic and financial importance and the success of a future climate regime will hinge not only on more aggressive emission reductions, but on the evolving nature of energy geopolitics.

Countries in the Arab Gulf host the majority of world oil reserves, as well as some of the planet’s fastest levels of energy use growth. Some estimate that Saudi Arabia for example has been second only to China in the rate of energy consumption growth over the past decade. As Arab Gulf countries diversified their economies beyond oil, energy intensity of growth has increased given the rapid emergence of heavy industry and urban expansion. While the region has generally been noted for its relatively high levels of per capita carbon emissions, its overall energy use trajectory has not been as much in focus. That is changing.

Among those placing rising energy use in focus are the countries themselves, not the least driven by the implications of oil depletion for future public revenues. In turning to new approaches, the region seeks to engage its position as home to the world’s highest levels of solar radiation. A surge of attention has been placed in recent times to new renewable energy policies and technologies with countries now allocating large-scale public financing; re-investing record oil revenues to set the foundations for a more sustainable energy future.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for example issued a new National Renewable Energy Plan in 2012 with $100billion pledged to rapidly expand solar energy’s share to 20% of the national energy mix by 2030. In United Arab Emirates (UAE), progress is being made on the world’s largest concentrated solar power (CSP) plant, alongside its hosting of the new International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and other notable initiatives. The prospective shift to greater use of clean energy would help reduce the energy intensity of growth, stabilize or reduce per capita greenhouse gas levels, and possibly create clean energy as a source of youth employment and a future knowledge economy sector.

 Recent years of climate negotiations also make clear that we are moving into a system of global climate governance beyond historic North-South dichotomies; a shift to a more multi-polar order defined by the rise of emerging economies. Coming years will see a greater role for south-south cooperation on climate change. New partnerships may emerge between the Arab Gulf and clean energy leaders in Asia for example. During participation in the 2012 World Future Energy Summit in UAE, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao committed to strengthen not only traditional energy cooperation in the Gulf but cooperation on clean energy, building on China’s successes in renewable energy development. Cooperation with Asia could emerge as an important element of a more green economy in the Gulf.

While much attention has been placed on high per capita emissions in the Gulf, attention is also needed to the prospects for countries to contribute to global solutions. Opportunities could arise to engage the region’s clean energy focus towards outward direct investments (ODI) and official development assistance (ODA). The Arab Gulf hosts the largest Southern providers of ODA and a clean energy component in outward ODA is foreseen, for example in the Islamic Development Bank’s new Energy Strategy and its focus on low-carbon initiatives in Sub-Saharan and North Africa. The 2008 Riyadh Declaration on Sustainable Energy for All likewise focused on support to global clean energy expansion, with large scale commitments to the international community.

At a Middle East and North Africa Energy Summit in early 2012, Saudi Minister for Petroleum Al Naimi noted how “greenhouse gas emissions and global warming are among humanity’s most pressing concerns. Societal expectations on climate change are real, and our industry is expected to take a leadership role.” As the UN and world leaders prepare for the 18th Climate Change COP in Doha, an opportunity exists for the Arab Gulf to help build the foundations for the post-2015 sustainable development agenda, and for the world to engage the Gulf in new global partnerships to combat climate change while also supporting a historic shift within the Gulf as leaders attempt to pursue a new clean energy future.

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